The granddaddy of crossover sport utility vehicles, the Subaru Outback, rolls into 2020 with a host of enhancements, including a new Onyx model aimed at outdoors-oriented customers.
It was in 1994 when Subaru, witnessing the trend to truck-based SUVs but without a competitive product, recast its Legacy station wagon as a special edition called the Outback, which later was defined as a car-based crossover.
Other manufacturers followed and now crossovers of every size and price have eclipsed traditional sedans as the overwhelming favorite vehicle. Subaru has sold more than two million examples of Outback.
The designers resisted any urge to make the new Outback look more like a traditional tall SUV. Built on a new global platform, it still looks more like a modern station wagon and, of course, like an Outback. Subaru says its customers preferred the traditional styling.
The 2020 Outback comes in seven trim levels with two different horizontally-opposed engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines because the cylinders lie on both sides of the crankshaft, feet-to-feet, instead of standing upright or leaning as in a V engine.
With their vertically squished profile, boxer engines enable a lower center of gravity and a tidy way to add all-wheel drive to a front-wheel drive vehicle, as well as a natural balance. Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines exclusively and makes all-wheel drive standard on every model except the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, also manufactured and sold as the Toyota 86.
The 2020 Outback’s engines are a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, and a new turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 260 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque.
Equipped with the standard engine are the base Outback with a starting price of $27,655, Premium at $29,905, Limited at $34,455 and Touring at $38,355. Turbocharged models, designated XT, are the Onyx at $35,905, Limited $38,755 and Touring $40,705. Prices include the destination charge.
The transmission is Subaru’s continuously variable automatic (CVT), which also can mimic a stepped eight-speed automatic for manual shifting with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
Subaru delivers its EyeSight suite of safety features as standard equipment on every Outback model. Cameras mounted inside on both sides of the inside rear-view mirror monitor traffic ahead and activate pre-collision emergency braking and throttle management. Adaptive cruise control maintains a pre-set distance from the car ahead, and lane keeping assist keeps the Outback centered in its lane.
The system also uses an infrared camera with facial recognition technology to monitor the driver and identify any sign of distraction or fatigue, when it provides visual and audio alerts. Also available are automatic reverse braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a head-up display.
Models with both engines were driven for this review. The conclusion was that the standard engine would satisfy the majority of Outback buyers. With car-like handling and ride, it also has enough power to hold its own on any road or traffic condition.
But the focus here is on the Onyx XT with the turbo motor, which delivers more rapid acceleration and passing power, though as might be expected lower fuel economy. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 23/30/26 mpg compared to 26/33/29 for the standard engine.
The Onyx comes with a new polyurethane-based faux leather upholstery that the company says cleans easily and is more comfortable in heat and cold than vinyl-based seat coverings. Because the model is aimed at customers who spend time in the outdoors, the Onyx also comes with Subaru’s dual-mode X-Mode system that enhances off-road performance, including automatic hill descent control. There are settings for snow, dirt and mud.
Other Onyx equipment includes 18-inch black aluminum wheels, black exterior trim, a 180-degree front-view monitor, full-size spare wheel and tire, hands-free power rear tailgate and dual exhaust pipes. The tester also had a $1,845 option package that included a motorized sunroof, reverse automatic braking and Subaru’s Starlink navigation system with an 11.6-inch center screen.
On both paved highways and rutted forest roads, the Outback Onyx demonstrated stellar performance. It was fast, comfortable and handled competently on twisting northern California highways, aided by brake-based torque vectoring for the rear wheels.
Off-road, its 8.7-inch ground clearance enabled it to traverse deep and steep holes that would have trapped many other vehicles. The hill descent control took the anxiety out of steep downhill grades.
Gotta love it.
- Model: 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 260 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual-shift mode and full-time all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
- Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
- EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 106/33 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,884 pounds.
- Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $35,905
- Price as tested: $37,750.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) Subaru